Growing up Uncorrelated

By: Mormon Heretic
September 2, 2013

This is my second post on The Challenge of Honesty that was released Sept 1.  (You might want to check out my previous post.)  Frances Lee Menlove tells about growing up before correlation existed.

The Correlation Committee was started in 1961 and, in the words of John-Charles Duffy, “encompasses a philosophy–one might even say, a theology–of Church governance, in which LDS doctrines about priesthood and prophetic authority are synthesized with strategies for organizational efficiency drawn from the world of business.  This philosophy sets a premium on strong central authority, uniform procedures, and unified discourse. …  One of correlation’s several objectives is to preserve purity of doctrine in Church discourse, which is to say that correlation acts as a mechanism to police and promote orthodoxy.”2

“Uniform procedures” and “unified discourse” were not part of my Church upbringing.  I have two stories to illustrate just how uncorrelated my formative years were.  When I was a young teenager in the 33rd Ward in Salt Lake City, our Sunday School class decided that we wanted to learn about other religions.  And so, every two or three weeks, we would load into cars and attend other Sunday services in Salt Lake City.  They knew we were coming, and we had been briefed on good manners so we could appropriately file into the Unitarian or Catholic or Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints services to watch and listen.  I remember that a leader of the local Reorganized Church met with us after the service to answer questions.  There was one glitch on the Sunday we visited the Cathedral of the Madeleine.  The girls didn’t have head coverings, so after some hurried whispers, we were led, as a group to the front row, making it clear that we were visitors.  Our Sunday School teacher that memorable year was the same Joseph Jeppson who helped found  Dialogue:  A Journal of Mormon Thought.  

The second story, which I love to tell, is about my grandfather, another pre-Correlation Mormon.  He was also a bacteriologist and a dedicated empiricist.  Just as Henry Eyring did, he liked to say that “in this Church we don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true.”  Grand-dad went to see the bishop one Sunday and explained to him that he knew Sister Brown had tuberculosis, and besides, who knows what other diseases were running around the ward?  Even without these known ailments, the practice of passing one large sacrament cup down the row with each person taking a sip was unsanitary in the extreme.

sacrament“Brother Greaves,” the bishop huffed, “do you really think that God would allow his sacred water, which has been blessed by the priesthood, to cause disease, to make people sick?”

“Bishop”, my grandfather replied, “do you really think that God would have given us brains if he didn’t expect us to use them?”

The bishop suggested that he go home and repent.  My grandfather’s reply to that suggestion was “Horse feathers!”

My grandfather helped get the practice changed.  My memory is that Elder John A. Widtsoe, another scientist, was his ally.  He thought the moral of the story was this:  “See, even though Church authorities sometimes act like jackasses, the Church has a way of righting itself.”  Grand-dad had a little of J. Golden Kimball’s salty style.

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15 Responses to Growing up Uncorrelated

  1. Hedgehog on September 2, 2013 at 3:47 AM

    Great stories. If only, on the sunday school class.
    Shudder at the idea at sharing one cup for water. It’s one thing with the antiseptic properties of alcohol, though even then I wouldn’t be too keen. But water! Did her grandfather refrain from taking the sacrament until this was fixed?

    ”See, even though Church authorities sometimes act like jackasses, the Church has a way of righting itself.”
    Though it sometimes seems to take an awfully long time (as in priesthood ordination issues). I do wonder how much harder it is for this to happen now though, than it did in her grandfather’s time. I don’t think many members feel so confident about pushing back, and I don’t think it’s as easy always to get a concern heard up to the level of the twelve.

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  2. Justin on September 2, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    This is the best way for me to summarize “correlation” when I talk to other members who don’t get what it is or why I have a “problem” with it.

    [It] encompasses a philosophy – one might even say, a theology – of Church governance, in which LDS doctrines about priesthood and prophetic authority are synthesized with strategies for organizational efficiency drawn from the world of business.

    This philosophy sets a premium on strong central authority, uniform procedures, and unified discourse. … One of correlation’s several objectives is to preserve purity of doctrine in Church discourse, which is to say that correlation acts as a mechanism to police and promote orthodoxy.

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  3. Howard on September 2, 2013 at 3:25 PM

    I grew up uncorrelated too. I don’t have any cool stories about it like the OP but I don’t remember anyone acting like the orthodox police, I do remember people sharing what they believed to be true about various gospel topics even when they differed considerably without anyone seeming to feel the need to conform to some standard. It wasn’t all peaches and cream of course everyone seemed to “know” blacks had been cursed and were clearly less than in a way very similar to gays pre prop. 8.

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  4. Paul on September 2, 2013 at 6:45 PM

    I did not realize this was the case, but am glad to hear that gospel learning was more unstructured and individualized in the past. I’m coming up on 10 years in YSA wards, and the standardization of Sunday School curricula has been especially difficult to stomach. I have taught Sunday School for many years and was recently placed in charge of the Sunday School organization. It has been a great experience, and my goal is to try and facilitate a cultural overhaul regarding gospel learning, aiming for something similar to the pre-correlation era. I even created a new experimental teacher-training class where anyone from the ward can volunteer to teach a 10 minute lesson on a gospel topic of their choosing to a small class and get anonymous feedback from the class right when they finish. 3 weeks in, and it is already the most rewarding Sunday School experience I have experienced in years. The class has no idea ahead of time what the teacher will be covering, and there have been some really excellent lessons so far. I am anxious to see if this momentum can continue, or if things will revert back to the status quo. I’m glad to be able to put a name to what has been bothering me about Sunday School over the last decade: correlation.

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  5. Jeff Spector on September 3, 2013 at 6:53 AM

    Well. it’s clear where Frances Menlove stands on things. She is critical of the Church.

    I can see a need for some level of correlation in a growing WW Church that has expanded beyond the Utah borders where the GAs could pretty much control what was taught, what was said and how the leaders acted.

    And as Howard pointed out there are always flaws in the memory of the “golden era….” That some prevailing thought in the pre-correlated world was not that great.

    Yet, I am less than a fan of the 30-plus year old Sunday School curriculum. And I was very disappointed to see the same tired old lessons for the OT this next year. But that is less about correlation and more about trying hard to shove the Gospel into the Old Testament, rather than teaching it as the “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.”

    IMO, I think that the correlation has been a net plus even though the romance of the uncorrelated world seems so much better to some who might not remember all that it wrought.

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  6. tomirvine999 on September 3, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    There needs to be a healthy balance. We also need to follow the Holy Spirit as we teach…

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  7. Hedgehog on September 4, 2013 at 2:33 AM

    #5 “I think that the correlation has been a net plus even though the romance of the uncorrelated world seems so much better to some who might not remember all that it wrought.”
    Maybe. But I can’t help wonder if things have swung too far, and detect some swing back the other way with the new youth curriculum. It can feel an awful lot like we’re consuming and delivering a product sometimes.

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  8. Jeff Spector on September 4, 2013 at 6:15 AM

    Hedge,

    I kind of agree with you that our lessons have gotten a bit long in the tooth…. But, are we delivering a product? I think of it as delivering a foundation, from which we can build our lives of family, service and devotion to the Savior, through those things.

    But, it requires a firm foundation. Correlated or uncorrelated, you need good lesson materials taught by good teachers.

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  9. Hedgehog on September 4, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    Jeff: ” you need good lesson materials taught by good teachers.”
    Agreed. And we shouldn’t be delivering/consuming a ‘product’, absolutely. Just that it can feel like that, as a lot of the “foundation, from which we can build our lives of family, service and devotion to the Savior” seems to get lost in the packaging far too much of the time.

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  10. Jeff Spector on September 4, 2013 at 9:08 AM

    It seems they are heading in the right direction. The Youth and Seminary lessons have changed. Let’s hope for the SS lessons by 2015!!! :)

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  11. hawkgrrrl on September 4, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    “trying hard to shove the Gospel into the Old Testament, rather than teaching it as the “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.”” Well said. That is a big problem with our current manuals. The teachings of the prophets manuals are the absolute worst at this.

    I too remember life uncorrelated. The good part was that nobody had the inside track or party line. .On the downside, if you sounded confident, you would be believed to have the answers, and Mormon Doctrine and other folklore was often substituted for actual doctrine. However, people weren’t burned at the stake for questioning or having an alternate interpretation or using “unapproved” sources. Everyone was seeking together, but uniformity of thought wasn’t the goal.

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  12. Jeff Spector on September 4, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    Next year’s TOP is Joseph Fielding Smith. I can’t wait to see how they parse that one. Should be as good as the BY one.

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  13. sba on September 7, 2013 at 2:11 PM

    Serving as a missionary in tiny, brand-spanking-new branches in central Europe in the 1990s left me grateful for correlated materials. Members with moderate literacy levels and zero history in the Church could put together decent lessons when it was their turn to speak in sacrament meeting or to teach Sunday School–which just about everyone had to do every couple of months. And although alarmingly wacky ideas still found their way into many church meetings, there were a few easily understood sources that inexperienced leaders (such as 19-year-old American branch presidents) could point to in an effort to keep things centered on basic gospel principles.

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  14. [...] the days before correlation fun? Take Alma, for example. He got the authority to baptize just by praying for it — without [...]

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  15. gr8rgood on September 9, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    I grew up fairly uncorrelated and, as an adult, I thought I would pass the tradition along to the Youth of Zion. When I was a SS teacher I, just as you shared above, decided to do a series of lessons around other religions. I did so with the Bishop’s blessings but was stopped short about 3 lessons in and told to follow the manual. Possibly some parents complained; I don’t know, the young people in my SS class loved it and my class size tripled during that time.

    In another ward as a YW’s advisor I decided to teach a series about ‘Great Women in the Church’. (Kind of a ‘I am Woman Hear Me Roar’ series.) This was the fatal last straw that caused me to wind up as the Ward Librarian where I could do no harm. But wait… I can throw away all of these horrid ‘To Young Men Only’ pamphlets. And so I did, not once did any of these stupid ‘Little Factory’ pamphlets go out on my watch.

    Now; well, let’s just say I am not in the ‘Not Even Once Club’.

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